Sunday, March 20, 2011

Art 24/7 and Finding Balance

Recently a wonderful man named Michael Cunningham asked me a question worth pondering. 

#21 by Michael Cunningham
"I have enjoyed making art of some kind all my life. I started quilting about 20 yrs ago. In the past 5-6 years I have been moving more and more to Art Quilting. Late last year I challenged myself to create a quilt a day. Well, that lasted for 32 days ending on Thanksgiving day when the holidays got the best of my creativity and time. The quilts were each 6x6 and lots of fun to do. I was reading every book I could get my hands on, including yours which I purchased at the 2010 Houston International Quilt Show. It was a great way to try different printing techniques, hand drying, beading etc… You can go to my blog to see them, . With the new year here I am finding it hard to get back into my art. So my question, after all that is, how do you keep the creativity going… how do you keep the passion alive? I wish I could work on it every day, but life and the need to make a living and keep a household gets in the way. My dream life is no work & no commitments…just art 24/7 eat art, sleep art, live art, my art. HELP!?!"

I'm with you Michael! Mostly. No work? No commitments? Sounds like a dream. Full days of studio time with no deadlines and no housework in the way? Gotta admit it sounds heavenly. That darn life thing and work and commitments!?

Except that I like my commitments. They largely consist of my family and religious duties and they will always be a higher priority than my art. That doesn't mean that I make three course meals every night and devote every waking moment to volunteering at the school or driving them to a million extra-curricular activities. I do enough - but there make room for art. Things here often fall apart when I've got a deadline approaching but it tends to be cyclical - life tends to balance out over the month - definitely not on a daily basis.

So Michael - instead of talking about keeping the passion for art right away - I'm going to start out talking about balance. To me the two are intertwined.

I'm one of those very fortunate people that doesn't need to support myself through what I do so I can say no to too many teaching gigs or to commissions - both of which would tip the see-saw completely too far away from the family. This also means that I have an awful lot of "life and keeping a household" (if not the making a living part) getting in the way of being a full time, productive, artist. I've always envied those who are able to crank out piece after piece. Then I remember - five kids and Mr. Almost Perfect. Being heavily involved in my religious community and with my friends. Ah. I chose these commitments and they're all good.

Tiny Sun
My mantra this past year has been "it's all good." When people asked how I was doing - I used to say "crazy. I'm going crazy." I think I'm a whiner by nature. I could list all the looming deadlines and the million hours of driving and homework and such. I needed to stop the complaining. I hate it when my children whine and complain - especially about the good things that they don't appreciate. So now I say "a little crazy but it's all good" because, truly, it is. I don't have to look far at all to find many, many people who are much less fortunate than I. It's all about perspective, expectations, and vision.

1 - Perspective. Looking at my lack of art time during the intense years of having infants at home from the depths of those trenches was very frustrating. No time. No creativity. Exhaustion. It took a number of years to realize how quickly that time passes. My oldest, who was a baby last time I blinked, is leaving the next this year. With the last baby I told myself - focus on this. Focus on now. Don't wish this time away. Hindsight is perfect right? I could see that this time would fly and chose be happy with what was.

2 - Expectations. Keep it real. During that "trench" time I told myself I was on sabbatical. No worries about getting into the studio or producing anything or entering finished work into shows. I kept a sketchbook so if an idea happened to bubble up through the baby-induced-fog I could catch it before it slipped away. Because I didn't expect any more than that - I wasn't disappointed. Or frustrated. A few art related things actually did find their way into existence and they were a happy and unexpected bonus.

Three Leaves
3 - Vision. Because I had a longer view of my past experience to draw from, I could envision life further into the future. Life is short - but it's long enough. I knew time would be mine later and I had a plan. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted from my art and how to make it happen. When I was ready to get back into the studio I knew what my goals were both long and short term. I had a few immediate goals and many 5, 10, and 20 year goals. Still do. I can manage a few goals each year. I know when I might be able to start work on the more intense goals. I've got some big dreams for waaaay down the road. Even baby steps can get you closer to the top of the mountain!

Perspective - appreciate where you are

Expectations - keep it real

Vision - know where you are and where you are headed

Next week - PASSION for our art
Where does it come from? How do you keep it burning?

And tell me how you find your balance.